3
Narrating Voices and Their Audiences

The Rhetorical Significance of Narrative Transmission

The study of point of view, including analysis of narrators, has been of major interest to theorists of narrative during the past four decades; Wallace Martin states that for American and German theorists it is “the defining feature of narration” (9). Yet as narratologists frequently point out, the traditional terminology at best provides a place to begin and can fail to get at the most interesting effects. This limitation can be illustrated by considering the following beginnings, from Melville's story “Bartleby the Scrivener” (first published in 1853) and Dickens's novel Bleak House:

I am a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations, for the last thirty years,
has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an in-
teresting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom, as yet, nothing, that I
know of, has ever been written—I mean, the law-copyists, or scriveners. I have
known very many of them, professionally and privately, and, if I pleased, could
relate divers histories, at which good-natured gentlemen might smile, and sen-
timental souls might weep. But I waive the biographies of all other scriveners,
for a few passages in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener, the strangest I
ever saw, or heard of. While, of other law-copyists, I might write the complete
life, of Bartleby nothing of that sort can be done. I believe that no materials ex-
ist, for a full and satisfactory biography of this man. It is an irreparable loss to
literature. Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable,
except from the original sources, and, in his case, those are very small. What
my own astonished eyes saw of Bartleby, that is all I know of him, except, in-
deed, one vague report, which will appear in the sequel. (13)

I have a great deal of difficulty in beginning to write my portion of these pages,
for I know I am not clever. I always knew that. I can remember, when I was a
very little girl indeed, I used to say to my doll, when we were alone together,
“Now, Dolly, I am not clever, you know very well, and you must be patient
with me, like a dear!” And so she used to sit propped up in a great arm-chair,
with her beautiful complexion and rosy lips, staring at me—or not so much at

-81-

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